BY Susan M. Brazas for Lawyers.com
It's not often that something is offered for free. The only time most consumers receive free prescription medications is in small sample-size dosages at their doctor's office. Recently the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has announced that it will offer free prescription medication to those who cannot afford it. Specifically, to those without jobs or insurance who've been taking a given medication for at least three months.
Many people have a hard time turning their back on anything free, particularly something as pricey as prescription medications. However, erring on the side of caution is the wisest course when it comes to free offers. Some medications are considered "experimental" and your insurance may not cover them once the free supply ends. This can be risky if you can't afford to pay for the medications and there are dangers associated with stopping them abruptly.
Many medications should be "tapered," rather than stopped abruptly. For example, medications for depression have been the subject of warnings from the FDA because early versions of the drugs were given without warnings to patients - or to physicians - that an increased risk of suicide existed if the drugs were stopped abruptly. Once the FDA warnings were issued, a flurry of wrongful death lawsuits and class actions followed, as grieving family members learned these risks hadn't been revealed to their loved ones in time.
Some consumers may wish to take advantage of a free prescription offer in order to "stock up" for future use, or even to have the medications available for a friend or relative in need. Serious legal ramifications, including criminal penalties and liability if injury results, can occur if you give or sell prescription medications to any person other than those for whom they are prescribed. If you take the medicines long after having picked them up from the drugstore, you might not learn of later warnings about risks, side effects, and new FDA warnings that come to light. Above all, it is important to keep in close touch with your physician about whether you should be taking medications.
Pharmaceutical companies are for-profit organizations, so don't assume that no strings are attached to a free offer from Pfizer or other companies. While such an offer of help might seem a great relief to those who have fallen on hard times, the promise of free medicine can't last forever and isn't right for everyone.
Remember that other routes may be available:
- State or federal prescription drug assistance plans or coverage
- Generic forms of the medicines you need
- Doctor-approved alternatives
- Even lifestyle changes, including exercise and diet
Don't let the offer of free medicines deter you from a search for longer-term solutions, in employment or health insurance coverage.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Could I have a legal claim if I think I was steered toward using a certain drug, and would it matter whether the drug was provided under a free assistance program?
- Is a drug manufacturer's potential liability affected under an assistance program?
- What should a drug company disclose to a consumer who enrolls in an assistance program, both about the medications, and continued availability of the program?